Office of Student Life, Title IX helps parents stay in school

Ashely Bowman, senior in psychology, plays tug-o-war with Ammo, the family dog, as Michael Twitchel, Masters student in architecture, and their 8-month-old daughter, Audrey Twitchel, look on. (Emily Starkey | The Collegian)

Like many students, Ashley Bowman, senior in psychology, and Michael Twitchel, graduate student in architecture, go to class, often have sleepless nights and run on copious amounts of caffeine. Unlike many students, Bowman and Twitchel do all of that with their 8-month-old daughter, Audrey Twitchel.

In September 2015, Bowman and Twitchel found out they were going to have Audrey, and though nervous, never even considered how having a baby might hinder getting a college degree.

“(Parenting) just adds more layers to being a student,” Twitchel said. “It’s still the same. It’s just tougher and more difficult to be a good student at times.”

Once they realized they were having a baby, Bowman and Twitchel went to the Office of Student Life for advice on how to balance classes, doctor appointments and what they could do if their daycare situation fell through.

“We’ll do that problem solving with a student: talk about all those options, how to develop a schedule so they can stay on track with their classes and still have a successful pregnancy and deliver a healthy baby,” said Heather Reed, assistant vice president of the Office of Student Life.

The Office of Student Life worked with around 25 pregnant and parenting students during the fall 2016 semester, Reed said. These students are told exactly what their rights are in regards to missing classes or receiving “reasonable accommodations” under Title IX. This federal rights law protects students from discrimination based on sex, which also includes pregnancy and parental status.

Reed said though many pregnancies that happen during college are unplanned, they do not have to derail students’ educations. Whether it means rearranging schedules, dropping certain classes or working with instructors to stay caught up in their classes, Reed said the office does what it can to help students.

“People don’t realize there are so many things we can do,” Reed said.

Audrey was born in May 2016, just a week after finals. All throughout finals week, Bowman had to discuss with her instructors what would happen if she went into labor during finals. She said everyone was very supportive and were willing to work with her during that time.

However, if she felt she had been discriminated against, the Office of Institutional Equity’s page for pregnant and parenting students had a link where she could file a complaint.

Bowman did not encounter discrimination. Other than one professor who told her not to bring Audrey to class, even if daycare fell through, most of Bowman’s instructors were fine with Audrey coming to class every now and then, so long as she did not disrupt class with her “talking,” which Bowman said is more like screaming.

During the fall semester, Bowman’s and Twitchel’s class schedules worked out so they did not have overlapping class times. This meant they were able to switch off with baby duty throughout the day and took turns taking care of Audrey in the mornings.

“Most nights I’m up late just trying to balance all of my school classes on top of spending time with her,” Twitchel said. “I go to school when I have to, come home and then when she’s sleeping, I go back to work.”

Twitchel’s classes make him go out of town often, so Bowman spends a lot of time alone with Audrey. Twitchel refers to being an architecture student with a baby as “the nature of the beast.”

Bowman and Twitchel do not work on top of going to classes, which Bowman said is nice for being able to just spend time with Audrey. They watch television together and Audrey loves to bounce in her bouncy chair and play the same song over and over again on her toys.

Audrey might not have been planned, but Bowman and Twitchel said they would not change anything. They said they had the time to plan and support from others to keep going with school and watch their baby get older and show her own personality.

“In a perfect scenario, I would have waited,” Twitchel said. “Now, I can’t see it without her anymore.”

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